2004. Launceston, Tasmania. Lecturing to third year students I share with them an idea:
As a teacher
your job is to generate thinking
not control it.
I don’t know if it’s a truth (are there any of those left?) but it’s something I firmly believe. I hold that idea as a central tenant of my teaching. It’s important to me, part of who I am as a teacher. Part of my teacher identity.
2012. Burnie, Tasmania. A first year student evaluation: Sharon wants us to think what she thinks.
I am caught by surprise. Shocked. Disappointed. Silenced. Immobilised. I can’t move on/get past it/let it go.
I want to, but it’s like a pebble that I can’t dislodge. Sharon wants us to think what she thinks.
I shake my head, and silently protest, deny it.
Has my position changed in the eight years since I taught the third years?
If it has, why wasn’t I aware of it? If it hasn’t, why aren’t students aware of it?
Today. Burnie, Tasmania. I’m puzzled. I have a situation and I’m not sure how to deal with it. It speaks to thinking and learning and power and control and authority and … and … and who I am and who I profess to be and student perceptions and clarity and lack of clarity and what I can/could/should do.
I learn through conversation: sharing ideas,talking them out, hearing an idea spoken aloud so that I can determine whether it’s an idea worth pursuing or if it needs to be tweaked or tossed aside. Through conversation I hear others’ ideas and determine how they might fit within my worldview or why they might not. I engage in conversation to understand, to learn.
I learn through questions: asking them and answering them. When I ask a question I want to know what the person I’m asking thinks, feels, values, believes. I want to hear their response. I ask to challenge my own thinking. I am interested in different perspectives, different ways of understanding an idea/concept/theory/practice, different values, different beliefs. I ask questions to understand and learn.
I learn through writing. I come to understand myself-others-the world-ideas-thoughts-traits-distinctions-dichotomies-polarities through writing. I use language deliberately. I think about the words I write with and the meanings of those words and the way one word/one idea/one thought fits with another. I think about cadence and rhythm and connection and clarity. I write to understand and as I write, I learn.
I don’t have answers. I have ideas.
That’s my realisation. Today. Right now. This moment.
Ideas can be challenged, adapted, re-formed, tossed aside, melded with others, stretched, explored, evaluated, weighed, talked about, shared. They can enrich and empower.
The puzzle: I am an academic. For some students that means I have authority. For some students it means I have answers. I contribute to the discussion online and some students think it’s a truth: definite, complete, authoritative. I float an idea. I suggest, propose, offer. There is conundrum inherent in my contribution. I write authoritatively, I am in control of my ideas, my words, my expression. I am an academic. I should know and therefore I should tell.
I don’t have answers. I have ideas.
Ideas can enrich and empower. They can be shared, talked about, weighed, evaluated, explored, stretched, melded with others, tossed aside, re-formed, adapted, challenged. Even my ideas. Yes, even my ideas.
I want students to do their own thinking. I want them to think about the complexities within the books they’re reading in Children’s Literature, to make connections to what’s going on in the world around them, to be aware of the world around them, to see other people’s realities, to have ideas and share them and get to the crux of the story/character/plot/reality writ large on the page.
I share my ideas … not my answers.
Ideas can be challenged.
5 thoughts on “Lesson #3”
An idea? Yes, but only the tip of the iceberg. Enough as a provocation to entice, but never to overwhelm – or at least not completely – and usually it is my desire to jump to the end understanding before travelling the journey which overwhelms me.
An authority? Yes. I am comforted and encouraged to trust that my lecturer is confident because they have a sound understanding and knowledge of the topic at hand. However learning from this type of authority is like a card game – there is an opening gambit and a challenge, and more is slowly discovered as the game continues. Are there winners and losers? Well I took up the challenge and played the game – so I guess that makes me a winner (hmm a new concept there).
Was I required to think like my lecturer? To be honest, in my own mind, especially in my first couple of years of study, this seemed like the perfect solution to getting a good grade on my assignments. I was not confident to trust my own thoughts – well what if I was wrong! On reflection, I don’t recall any of my lecturers asking me to think like they do. I have been presented with a wealth of diverse ideas across the units I have studied (yes I have nearly finished 30 of them – yay). My thinking, my understandings thus far, my sense of self-efficacy have all been challenged. Most of all, I have been challenged to be an independent thinker!
Mandy, you make a really good point about enough of an idea to entice but not to overwhelm. It’s one of the difficulties with online education – we can’t see the signs that the student is overwhelmed by the question/issue/discussion/idea. That might not have been your point exactly, but I think it’s something worth remembering – that I need to remember.
How can we (can we) encourage away from the thinking that they might be ‘wrong’? They might express their idea poorly and so not do well on an assignment, but that is very different from having to think the ‘right’ thing. Where does right/wrong come from in an academic sense? Is it helpful to try to dispel that, and would students believe me anyway??
I had a strong reaction to this post when I read it this morning. But I had to ruminate and take my time before I responded. Jill has identified the foundation of my initial reaction – she says that early on in her studies, she felt similar feelings to those that this first year student has expressed. And I honestly believe that the status of this student should be remembered when considering his / her response: as a first year student, there is still a lot of thinking, assimilating and confronting of personal biases to be done before a personal approach to study and teaching can be identified.
I have a personal opinion that there are some individuals who will never respond to probing questions or constructive comments on their work in a positive or productive way – it is just not part of their intellectual or emotional make-up to do so. Lecturers, authors, radio presenters, teachers, bank tellers, supermarket cashiers, in fact anyone who deals with individuals from wider society as part of their daily routine will, at some stage, encounter individuals who do not have the capacity to consider a perspective that is even marginally different to their own opinion. When you are a person who accepts, encourages and enjoys the process of engagement, debate and discussion of differing or even polar points of view, it is very difficult to understand that there are other individuals who just do not have this capacity. Encounters with such individuals are very disconcerting, as [our] very nature is such that we consider every statement that we hear and roll them around in our consciousness, assessing our own biases and preconceptions, questioning our beliefs and understandings before we can come to a satisfactory conclusion: “No, my perspective / question / opinion / argument was viable and acceptable – and I’m OK with that.” Before we reach this point, however, we do experience agonising, probing and confronting personal dilemmas as we question so much about ourselves – sometimes even the very paradigms that shape the meaning that we take from our existence. Ultimately, though, the conclusion will come – “It’s OK to receive what I perceive to be negative feedback, even if it targets the foundation of my purpose.”
And there I shall end, because I realise that (once again) I am waxing lyrical instead of marking papers. You have my 5c worth – process (if you wish) and discard, once you have formed your own opinion.
Hi Stephanie. I appreciate your thoughtful comment on my post. What do you see as the implications for academics if the “status of the student should be remembered when considering his/her response”? I am interested in this because I’m wondering if it means that it’s okay for the academic ‘to tell’ in the first year/s of a degree and allow the student to grow into their independent thinker self over time.
I am facilitating a web conference for Children’s Literature tomorrow afternoon and I’ve been thinking about how I’ll run it, since first reading your comments a few days ago. These students are primarily first years – is it too early to expect them to cope with more than ‘teaching as telling’?
The other point you raised, about some individuals never responding to probing questions or constructive comments in a positive way is of concern to me. The type of people we want to go into teaching need to able to respond positively to probing questions – I was just facilitating a panel discussion on educational leadership and one of the panel members (a graduate in his 4th year of teaching) talked about one of his roles being to have ‘tough conversations’ with teachers. These tough conversations are about their performance as a teacher and involve being asked probing questions. It’s part of the role of teacher – so while there are people who don’t respond well, do we want them working in an environment that is full of probing questions?
Just some thoughts!
I can only begin to imagine how this must all be playing on your mind in light of the conference you are hosting tomorrow! When I referred to the status of the student, I meant that sometimes a “new” student can be inclined to make a statement such as the one we are discussing with little thought about the implications of that statement. Over time and with judicious leadership (from people like you) students can learn that their first thoughts on a topic, or their first feelings about a particular issue might be flawed, and that it is nearly always better to ruminate for a while before posting responses or making statements. In a roundabout way I’m trying to say that in some cases we need to take statements or opinions “from whence they come” – in this case, possibly magnanimously, in the knowledge that no-one on this forum (or possibly ever?) has made a statement like that about your teaching style before.
I agree with your concern about whether or not we should encourage individuals to enter the profession if they are not open to constructive, supportive comments, or probing questions that encourage them to delve deeper and think harder. I do believe that, with effective leadership and teaching, over a four year period, most individuals have the capacity to slow down and take these comments as sources of support rather than instructions to change or conform to an established standard. Once again, a student in the first year of a degree might learn this over time – I know that my capacity to think, reflect, ruminate and research increased beyond my wildest understanding over the course of my degree (all thanks to you and Tim) so there is always hope! Having said all of this, I strongly believe that there really is no place in our profession for individuals who have no appreciation for the value of ongoing, substantial and paradigm-challenging professional development, research and evolving pedagogy. These are essential if we are to continue to provide relevant, authentic learning experiences that encourage today’s students to perfect the art of learning in preparation for the future.
And there I shall end my monologue so that I can return to marking! Thank you for creating this forum for thought-provoking discussion!